He Clasped Her Fast, Both Flesh and Bone
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 14, Part 198
The Last of the Letter
Eldarion declined to join the others in a game of cards, but looked on smiling wryly, leaning against the mast while Trickster, wonderfully recovered, chittered on his shoulder and played with the prince’s long, dark hair. Eldarion laughed and endured the occasional tugs, stroking the monkey’s back.
Frodo did quite well in the game. He already had Eowyn’s silver comb, emerald hairpin, and the horse-head brooch, plus most of Nib’s and Lebadoc’s coins. Mattie had long ago tapped out her pocket-money and strummed something slightly insolent-sounding on the harp. Nobody seemed to notice that Frodo kept all of the loot in subtly separated piles.
“Fold,” Nibs said with a sigh, laying down his cards. “‘Twould be my shirt next, if I stayed in.
“Fold,” Lebadoc said, eyeing Frodo suspiciously.
“I shall fold as well,” said the Lady Eowyn.
“Bluff,” Frodo responded with a grin, displaying his not-quite-flush, worthless for the lack of a single jack. Then he interrupted everybody’s groans by pushing back his winnings to the original owners. “Never mind–it was all a jest. The cards are marked. But I’d thank you to keep that a secret between us.” Amid the laughter he caught Lebadoc’s appraising eyes. “Come to think of it, I don’t really need such jests anymore. Here, Lebadoc–accept these cards as my gift.” Their eyes locked as Frodo said, “I think they suit you better than me.” Lebadoc pocketed them without a word.
He stood up, and Trickster hopped from Eldarion to him. Immediately the monkey started to run his wrinkly little fingers through Frodo’s curls (which now indeed reached to his brows.)
Lebadoc said. “The nasty little creature is only looking for lice to eat.”
“Not quite,” the Prince put in. “Travelers have told me that monkey-kind displays affection by grooming each other’s fur. Thus they tend each other’s health and comfort.” He reached down and scratched Trickster behind the ear. “He means it as a kindness.”
Lebadoc snorted. “As though a brute beast had feelings!”
Nibs looked up from collecting back his coins. “So says the Master of the Bath, who never worked in a barn in his life.”
Lebadoc smirked over at him. “Yes, at least I have not sunk so low.”
Eowyn, guised as Dinwen, said, “In Rohan, so they say, the King himself tends to his own horse, unashamed to display his care for so noble a beast.”
Eldarion added, “It is no different in Gondor, so I hear, within the Royal House, though horses there are few.” Lebadoc grumbled something under his breath, took up his money, and left.
Frodo laughed, saying, “I suppose that now he’ll have something to say about the tedious company of men.” Then his gaze grew distant, and he laughed no longer. “For my own part, the company I desire most right now awaits me in the Shire.” Then he glanced off the bow. “So many miles away...”
“Say the word,” Nibs told him, “and you can just get right back on this boat after we dock in Seaside, and you can head the other way. I’ll work there in your place as long as is needful.”
“No, that is all right. We each belong where our duties lie.” Now he stared on forward where the river flowed. Throughout this stretch, knots of gloomy, black-barked trees huddled near the banks here and there, with dripping thorns grown low over the water, twisted and sparse of leaf even in this time of year, the wastes beyond them visible in shades of gold. “But I ache the most for home on birthdays, don’t you know.” He smiled. “Have no fear, Uncle Nibs. It will pass.”
His uncle nodded. “Ah, yes. Little Ruby’s day, today. She’ll be...let me think...fourteen years old? Yes, that sounds right. My, but they grow so fast!”
“Indeed. Fourteen it is. I only hope that the family troubles don’t cast a cloud upon her party.”
“Things had already improved when I left, Frodo, and months have passed since then.” He patted his nephew on the arm. “Take comfort. Families heal.”
“All the same, Papa’s letter is just...so...”
“No worse than what you’ve written home yourself, young lad.”
Frodo sighed. “You’re right. I should finish it today and get it over with. I owe it to him for all of the times he forced his way though mine.” He settled back down on the deck and pulled the letter out from his vest’s inside pocket. Trickster moved on to Mattie, to inspect her sandy curls.
Sam wrote, “You have more compassion for Dragon-Girl than I would in the same circumstance. You are in some ways wiser than me, for all your folly. Remember that. Do not lightly throw your life away.”
Frodo swallowed a lump and gazed away from the letter for a moment. How hard it must have been for his father to read his words! He hadn’t even thought of how damage to himself could injure anyone else.
“It gladdens my heart now to read of you returning to your work! That is the best thing for the likes of you and me. Some folks dont know how hard work can make a sick heart heal, but it does, oh how it does. I throw myself into it every day, I hack out my anger against the weeds, I sweat out my griefs and fears, and by days end I go home feeling better. We shall get through these tough times yet, my son, you and me, together.
“And honey! In all of these travails I read how you finally get to taste something as good and simple as honey! Oh, I can feel its golden sweetness on my own tongue, like it sinks into my heart and warms me there! It is just such things that we hobbits need, more than jewels and crowns and pageantry. Just a taste of home, like that, can bolster a hobbits spirit better than a sip of miruvor.
“I have returned to my full mayoral duties now. Fredegar Bolger says hes relieved. He wonders how I cope with all the feuds and petty rivalries. I tell him that when youve got as many children as I have, you get used to settling squabbles. Theyd all come out for each other in a pinch, anyway. Their only petty when it doesent matter much. Except for Rolo Penniwistle, and hes long gone. I should of helped him see straight before he got so bad, I know that now. Maybe Tim Roothollow will teach him a thing or two in Bree.
“But back to you! I like what you say about the little thunderstorms in the staticky blanket. Do not fear fantasy, Frodo, not of your own imagining. The enemy might twist his own fancies into lies that snare him and anyone else he can trap, but yours rise up from a simple heart–you know their limits, and that is good; you should also know their strengths. Sometimes, lad, when I crossed the wastes below the feet of Orodruin, foul smokes and vapors would rise up, but I would picture them turning into trees, puffing up at the top into a spreading canopy of leaves. Sometimes I would slip in and out of believing it, marching towards it, always forward. It kept me going.
“What a hard, hard life you live! I read page after page of it. Yet you toss these things off lightly, as though no matter. My dear, brave boy! Oh what a devil of a drought you have–and thanks be to the Queen for sending that fountain to Bergil and Elenaril!
“You ask me if I see harm in your relationship with Crookyteeth. Yes, unfortunately I do. What is the point in getting yourself all riled up over a lady you cannot have? Even should the King give her a dispensation to live where her kind may not go, she could not be happy here. It is one thing for you to travel, for a time, to a land where everything is too big for you, another thing entirely for a woman to pledge herself forever to live where everything is too small. The cold, hard fact, Frodo, is that she will not fit into our lives, even if by some miracle she could come to understand our Shire ways and embrace them. Think of her. You ask too much of her.
“You need a good hobbit wife to take care of you. I know that this seems forever distant right now, but wait you must. I fared away from home a lot longer than you have done so far, and I managed. Children find it hard to see their parents in this way, but I am not without my passions–your many brothers and sisters show that clear enough. It can be done, this waiting.
“What comfort, to read of the Shire shipment reaching you, and dear old Pippin Took, and yes, that other greater than us all. I might have known youd see through old Striders disguise right away–and lucky for him that others dont have your eyes! Oh, but of course I want to nourish you and care for you any way I can, and if it takes recruiting an entire army to guard your food, I will do it, and let no one fault me for abusing my position! It is no abuse. Prosperity in other lands means prosperity for us.
“I have just gotten word from Minas Tirith, by a special post separate from the official one, which is all at odds and ends right now, apparently. The King gives you a clean bill of health! Oh sweet merciful heavens, what joyous news in the midst of terrible times! He tells me of the healing he has worked on you, and on others.
“And yet your decision adds grief upon my grief, to carry this monster yourself, when you could have handed him on to me! I would gladly have bourne it for you, my dear son!
“Do not imagine for a moment, though, that I fault you. You have made a brave decision, one very much like your namesake would of done. And I think Strider is right, mores the pity! Sauron would do a lot more damage with me than with you. I would never tell your mother this, but you, I must reveal to you everything, it seems. I do indeed carry a small ulcer in my soul, a little thing, just the size of a ring, that cannot heal anywhere except across the straightened sea. It is nothing, really; not at all like the colossal damage that poor Frodo Baggins suffered. It simply aches sometimes, under certain weathers of the heart. Most of the time I dont even know that it is there. But Sauron would know, and he could do much mischief with it.
“Bless my soul! Here I read of new hope, of the Kings prophecy, that you may yet be quit of that foul demon and no harm come of it! Thank heavens and all the Good Folk beyond the sea! You and me, we can keep on going knowing that, cant we?
“Wonderful news, too, about Bergil and Elenarils child on the way! I shall have to think of what to send as a present. Furniture, perhaps. Dont laugh! A hobbit chair and table would suit a human childs playhouse nicely, or perhaps some other things. Beregonds family does love to collect hobbit goods; they have, over the years, sent all manner of merchants (traveling dwarves, for the most part, canny bargainers) to purchase the oddest things for them.
“I feel sorry for you, about the inevitable break-up between you and your Crookyteeth, which I read of now, that it should happen so violently. I had not foreseen that, but Mordor is still Mordor, and even though folk want to improve, theyve a long journey ahead of them to get where they want to go. I wish the world were different, son, but this is the world we have. I feel sorry for both of you. But at least she has the means to build a new and better life, with that detestable cook out of the way. And so should you.
“It troubles me more, of course, that you have cursed, and that your curse hit home. Thank heavens Strider stood by to fix it up for you–with your good help, I might add. My poor son–under the very situation that makes it most hard for you to control yourself, you must control yourself the most of all! I confess Ive had a few untoward words cross my lips from time to time–hopefully out of the hearing of my children–but its a bad outlook when they actually mean something.
“I read here that before he showed you his solution, you thought to kill yourself. Dear lad! Would it surprise you to learn that I once nearly did the same? Twice, in a sense. You do not bear the burden of such temptations alone. Like you, the thought came to me in Mordor. Once, when I believed your namesake dead of Shelobs poison, I stared at my sword and reckoned it could end my pain. But that was to do nothing, not even to grieve. That doesent suit our kind, Frodo. We are working hobbits–we go on, no matter how hard the road.
“Another time the work itself became too much for me. I thought of how easy it would be, in that starved and thirsty land, wouldent need a sword or nothing, just keep lying there and not bother getting up ever again. But I had a job to do–and so do you, my Frodo dear. You cant up and turn your back on it. Your my blood; it is in you to go on. See, you and I know that powers greater than ourselves have plans, and we have our parts to play in them, till they decide when we can quit and not before. Once you know that, you cant stop knowing it.
“Yet I understand your suffering, my son. I remember the pain of such thoughts as trouble you. They do not last forever. Hold onto that. They pass.
“And indeed I see here that once the King showed you a way to fix what you had done, you felt better right away. Remember that when dark times come again–as they must, where you live now. Answers might exist that you dont yet know about. Even when I let go of hope, hope followed after, behind my back, and every sad thing I thought unchangeable changed for the good. I thought Id died in Mount Dooms throes, then I opened my eyes to the soft green shade of Ithilien, and Gandalf wasent dead no more, neither, and Frodo B. laughed free of madness, and even the hopeless old hurts of my youth that I thought to carry forever, even those went away, because of all these great people telling me my worth, when Id growed up feeling worthless. I never thought I could feel so happy in my life! My ribs could hardly contain my heart I felt so much goodness all around me and pouring into me.
“Even in Mordor hope will stalk you, hope wont give up on you even when you give up on her, hope will find you and overpower you and raise you up when you think youve got nothing left to do but die. I have seen it, Frodo, seen it with my own eyes, and touched it with my own heart.
“And now, thinking of that renews me, strengthens me to go on with helping Tom get well–because I know he will get well. And I can go on without May, because even if I dont see how she might come back, yet she might. And she is happy. Somehow, Frodo, I feel her happiness from a distance, in ways I cant explain. Sometimes I dream of her laughing, dancing in wild places, and in my heart I know those things are true. Also, I must never forget that I have many other beautiful children who also need me, and a wife who should not face her hardships by herself, Ive still got work a-plenty as a father and a husband and a brother and a friend, and as a tender of the land in field and orchard and court and counsel-chamber. Work is the lifeblood of a Gardner, dear son of mine–and fate would have it that we Gardners, you and I, we have had and will have more work before us than a Gamgee or a Gammidge ever did before.
“The King is right, as usual. You have it in you to tell Sauron to shut up. What power does this shattered Dark Lord draw upon in you? Dont we already carry a naysaying voice in ourselves without his help, calling us ninnyhammers for even trying? Realize that hes just catching a ride on your own doubts and fears, and that these lie in your control.
“The healing of Mayor Aloe puts me in awe. If she can come back from her darkness like that, then anybody can, I reckon. You see? Nobody can ever tell where hope might spring up next! How this letter, so doleful at first, strikes joy into my heart at the end! Is everything like that? Yet the elves do say that we are all but melodies in a greater song, whose saddest passages resolve into greater beauty than before.
“Oh do not give up, my lad! Never, ever give up! And I will not give up neither. You and I have twisty roads ahead of us; we cannot see around the bends. But somewhere on it, when we least expect it, we will take a turn and find our destinations, and we will bless every step of the way to get there.
“Yours truly and always and with the full strength of my love,
“Your Father, Samwise Gardner.”